Pink Moon: Demian Dorelli’s Homage to Nick Drake

18.06.2021, by Marco Castellani

“My dream is to play this whole record live, every single song in one performance, bringing Nick Drake’s music back to the stage. The first full moon in April, a herald of spring, is known as the Pink Moon. I dedicate this record to my daughter Lily, who was born under the light of this moon.”

Demian Dorelli 

Pink Moon was the last of just three albums that British singer-songwriter Nick Drake recorded over the course of his short life. It marked his return to a leaner, simpler style of solitary recording, free from the cumbersome presence of other musicians and consciously avoiding the sound experimentations of his previous work. The result was a seductive line-up of bare-bones songs, as gloomy and deep as it was enchanting and enlightening.

Demian Dorelli was born in January 1972. The following month, Island Records released Pink Moon, which had been recorded at the famous Sound Techniques studios, a stone’s throw from Demian’s childhood home, the same home where he learned to play the vertical piano. Later on, while studying music in London, Demian was introduced to Nick Drake’s music by his coursemate and friend Alberto Fabris, and became forever captivated by the mysterious charm of River Man and Five Leaves Left.

If we discount his childhood piano studies, Nick Drake’s musical career really began at Cambridge University, where he wrote his first song and recorded his debut album in between classes. Coincidentally, Cambridge is also the place where Demian currently lives. 

Here’s a debate that has been ongoing between Demian and Alberto since their college days: could a perfect album such as Pink Moon be transposed into piano music without ruining it? Would it be possible to imagine Drake’s ethereal musical landscape in a different form, re-creating his masterwork rather than reproducing it?  As there was no other way of settling the question, pianist Demian and producer Alberto decided to accept the challenge and try.

Throughout the course of 11 piano solo tracks, therefore, Demian has explored and paid homage to Nick Drake, his trademark guitar, his experimental chords, his lyricism and his glittering melodies, by way of a thoughtful distillation and an accurate transcription from one instrument to another, creating a whole spectrum of colors from the black and white of his piano keys.

Demian’s main purpose in playing Drake’s pieces is to begin a compelling dialogue between musicians, between the past and the present. 

The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios with legendary recording engineer Tim Oliver, who worked on some of the most seminal records of the past forty years. The album’s original cover art was created by artist and illustrator Franco Matticchio, the author of a famous New Yorker cover marking the start of the new millennium. Just like its music, the album’s cover art is also a homage to Pink Moon.

British writer and radio journalist Travor Dann and Italian singer-songwriter Pacifico chose to discuss Dorelli’s album on the occasion of its release.

TREVOR DANN – Dorelli’s album is the starting point of a journey aiming to find out where Nick Drake’s mystic and melodic visions might have led us.

I appreciate Demian’s music very much. His playing style has the lyricism and gentleness that are necessary to a piano interpretation of Nick’s music, while at the same time maintaining its equally important rhythmic drive. 

Demian Dorelli’s stylized revisiting of Pink Moon, Nick Drake’s third and final album, are proof that the gifted singer-songwriter, who died aged 26 in 1974, was much more than a simple folk guitarist. Even during the hard and desolate times towards the end of his life, when he put together the 27 minutes of music that would become Pink Moon, he managed to keep his ambitious imagination under pressure.

Dorelli’s album, therefore, is not so much a homage to Nick Drake but rather the starting point of a journey aiming to find out where Nick Drake’s mystic and melodic visions might have led us. Nick was a decent pianist – he himself recorded the simple piano phrasing in the title track  – and while at school he had played the clarinet and saxophone as well. His long, strong fingers gave him a natural aptitude for playing the acoustic guitar, which he obsessively refined in ever-changing chords, tirelessly looking for new sounds and timbres. He wanted to attempt the kind of leap that Miles Davis had performed in jazz. 

Further proof of Nick Drake’s composing knowledge is the fact that his melodies don’t suffer for a lack of lyrics. Dorelli does not limit himself with repeating Drake’s melodic phrasing, he gives us an idea of how they might have sounded if they had been conceived as instrumental pieces. Nick himself had a penchant for songs without words – there are two in Bryter Later, his second album, and one here, the moody and almost Arabic-sounding “Know”, which Dorelli turns into an anthem worthy of Vaughan Williams. 

The original Pink Moon is so austere, so foreboding and at the same time so transparent in conveying the inner turmoil of an artist who could feel both his career and his health going to pieces, that the purpose to bring some light and comfort to its music almost appears daunting.  All the more praise, therefore, to Damien Dorelli and his musical sensitivity, for creating an enchanting and satisfying record, while at the same time wondering about what might have been.

PACIFICO – DEMIAN, Roaming Around the Pink Moon


The distance between one’s fingers and one’s instrument is impossible to quantify. It is an unsolvable mystery. Don’t play too softly, don’t play too hard… and yet, the right way to play does exist. Demian knows it, and he can touch the keyboard the way it wants to be touched.

He is sensitive, and who better than a sensitive musician could have translated Nick Drake’s music on a piano? The kind of music that only came out in the open once in the history of popular music, and soon withdrew again, to hide out who knows where. Music suspended over an open chord, not sad, not happy, unreal, full of emotion and warmth even though it sounds so cold.

Demian knows how to connect to that music. He is part of a restricted circle of musicians who are able to play it without betraying it, neither warming it up nor cooling it down. He is one of the few astronauts who have managed to set foot on the Pink Moon. 



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